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Forensic Chemistry Laboratories: Aaron Motsoaledi's reply to Wilmot James

Minister says he has nothing to hide, but DA MP should not turn health facilities into political playgrounds (Jan 29)

Minister Aaron Motsoaledi responds to statement by Dr. Wilmot James on Forensic Chemistry Laboratories

29 Jan 2015

The Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi has read with shock the statement issued by Dr. Wilmot James on the Forensic Laboratory Services in South Africa and therefore would like to put the matter into perspective.

The Minister of Health would like to acknowledge once again that indeed there are serious backlogs in the Forensic Laboratory Services in the country particularly in relation to the blood alcohol samples and has on numerous occasions responded to all Parliamentary questions about this matter as posed by Wilmot James, the DA Member of Parliament any other Members of Parliament.

The Minister is on record acknowledging the backlog that took place over many years and has on numerous occasions outlined measures and strategies taken to solve these backlogs and improve Forensic Chemical Laboratories (FCL) services in the country, including but not limited to the identification of unemployed graduates who studied chemistry to train them at the University of Pretoria and subsequently employing them permanently in laboratories. This initiative has assisted in the improvement of human capacity at laboratories by about 134%.

The Minister is fully aware that he is accountable to Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and has no intension to run away from such a responsibility; however parliament has mechanisms, processes and procedures under which this accountability has to be exercised.

The minister exercises this accountability mainly through the Portfolio Committee on Health (National Assembly) and the Select Committee on Health (National Council of Provinces) both of which are made up of different political parties and he has accounted to them accordingly and shall continue to do so in the future.

"Parliament has about 400 members and we don't believe that it is practical, feasible and desirable for our democracy for each and every member to demand that I account to them individually, at their own time and own insistence with own individual conditions as it seems to be the cause Dr. Wilmot James is embarking on", Motsoaledi said.

It must be stated that Dr. Wilmot James has asked the Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi several questions regarding the Forensic Chemical Laboratory Services pertaining to blood alcohol samples through parliamentary processes and the minister has responded to all such questions especially towards the end of the year 2014.

However, on the23rd and the 29th day of December he wrote a letter about the same matter. On the 1st day January 2015 (New Year) he wrote  the minister a letter trying to create an absolute emergency about this matter. Three days later, 4th of January 2015 he wrote another letter asking the minister to confirm the expected date in which the Lab in Durban will start operating and the minister responded to that question is detail during the meeting on the 09th day of January in Cape Town.

During this period Dr. James also wrote several email letters discussing the same matter  and was advised that the minister did not see any of these letters at the time because he was on official leave and was also organising the burial service of his aunt Mrs. Caroline Motsoaledi.

On the 3rd day of February 2015, he wrote an "angry" email message demanding responses and the minister then convened a formal meeting with him held at the Offices of the Ministry of Health in Cape Town on Thursday the 9th of January 2015 to discuss the following:

To clarify him about the plans and mechanisms put in place to deal with backlogs in laboratories

To correct some of the misconceptions and assumptions he made about what needs to be done at laboratories.

To politely ask him to stop the sourcing official information and data from junior officials as in most instances the information he gets is not authentic.

To show him dangers of members of parliament (MP's) using unauthenticated information and the effects it has on the country as such information is might be used by academics (universities); research institutions both local and international etc. The aim was not to hide any information from Dr. James but rather to ensure the information that is provided and subsequently used is as authentic.

During the meeting he demanded to meet the minister at least once a month but shortly after the meeting Dr. James issued a statement which was not necessarily "a true reflection of the discussions we had, thus rendering the exercise futile."

On the issue of conducting "oversight visits" to laboratories as Dr. James alleges in his statement we would like to state that indeed the minister acknowledges that he instructed officials not to allow members of parliament to willy-nilly come in and out of health facilities as they please and without proper arrangement as that will turn these facilities into political grounds rather than honest oversight. However, it must be stressed that the minister has nothing to hide. In this regard, the portfolio committee on health which is made up of all political parties represented in parliament is welcome to visit health facilities and conduct oversight work.

"If Wilmot James wants to turn health facilities into political play grounds he must not expect me to be party to that. Can you imagine what will happen to productivity if any Member of Parliament just go to a facility anytime even without prior arrangement with management structures of that facility as he did and wants to continue to do all in the name of "oversight?, Motsoaledi asked.

The minister acknowledges that he received a letter from Dr. Wilmot James (MP) informing him that he will be visiting the Johannesburg and Pretoria Forensic Chemical Laboratories.

The Minister wants to reiterate that there is nothing to hide.  The Minister has during the meeting with Dr. James told him that "the physical state of the building at the Pretoria Forensic Chemical Laboratory is very bad and clearly not conducive to work from.

The Minister further told Dr. James that he has already reported the matter to the Department of Public Works which have decided that the laboratory should be relocated to the new premises than to repair and the process to secure alternative premises to accommodate the Pretoria Forensic Chemical Laboratory is at an advanced stage as commenced in October 2014.

The Question is: "Why does he believe that I have something to hide when I willingly disclosed all these information to him in the meeting? The only conclusion I have is that this is not oversight work but naked political opportunism and I take it as complete harassment of health facilities and I believe it is my responsibility to protect them from such harassment."

It was also brought to my attention that apparently when he visited the construction site at the new Durban Laboratory he refused to adhere to building and construction regulations saying as a member of parliament he has the right to do oversight on anything. Perhaps this is how he wants to conducts his politics."

Statement issued by Joe Maila, Department of Health spokesperson, January 29 2015

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